Contested races: Eugene Field School fate still looms in Silver Falls election

May 2015 Posted in News, School
Candidate Profiles
Silver Falls School District
candidate answers to the following
questions are available
at by clicking here:

• Why are you running
• What are your top three goals?
• Would you uphold the closure of Eugene Field School?
• What four words describe your leadership style?
• What changes do you want to bring to the school board?

By Kristine Thomas

Fred Vandecoevering has his reasons for supporting the five candidates he does in the May 19 Silver Falls School Board election.

Jessica Veith supports five different candidates.

While they disagree on which candidates are best qualified to serve on the board, they do agree on two things: the election will set the course of the district for the coming years and voters need to do their homework on each candidate before casting their ballot.

“One thing is certain, the next four weeks promise to stir more interest in school decisions then there has been in years,” Vandecoevering said.

Veith said she has endorsed candidates on her Facebook page “A Promise for Eugene Field.” She points out that the candidates she has promoted have asked to run on their own merit.

“I  selected candidates who I think will work well together and best represent what I’m looking for in a school board member,” Veith said. “I’m not a part of any camp. Some of my friends will likely vote differently than me, but that’s just it – we get to vote. I’m hoping everyone does the research and votes!”

Vandecoevering said there is a division the district, some of which is caused by the two recent failed bond measures.

“I really believe there has been poor communication on the part of administration, which has caused the division,” he said.  “With both bonds there was a rush, and patrons felt like something was not being explained enough, or may seemed in fact like the administration themselves weren’t prepared.”

The candidates for the school board are:

Zone 1: Tim Roth and Phil Wiesner. Gary Layton has withdrawn from the race.

Zone 2: Dan Johnson, Jim Squires and Ron Valoff.

Zone 5: Steve Kaser and Aaron Koch.

Zone 6: Todd White. DaNette Wernette is a write-in candidate.

Zone 7: Christopher Bailey and Tom Buchholz.

While candidates must live in the zone represented, voters can vote for a candidate in each zone.

There is a lot of buzz about this election. Facebook sites like Speak Out Silverton, Friends of Silver Falls School District, A Promise for Eugene Field and Silverton Connections Rejects have a host of comments on issues and candidates, some by the candidates themselves. Patrons at school and athletic events are talking about how five candidates are running as a block. Some find it troubling.

“Some of these people have made it very well known that their first order of business will be trying to get Superintendent Andy Bellando fired and to reverse the decision to get our kids out of Eugene Field and into a safe environment,” parent Leslie Martin said.

Outgoing board member David Beeson supports the five-candidate slate: Phil Wiesner, Dan Johnson, Steve Kaser, Todd White and Tom Buchholz.  He said although he has endorsed the candidates, it is untrue he recruited them.

“These five citizens have been coming to board meetings for some time now – some long prior to the last failed bond election – and they have been talking among themselves and with others in the community about what is happening in our school district,” Beeson said.

“The fact that they have come together with very similar values, and views, about the issues affecting our school district – and share similar views about where to begin to bring the community back together – does not automatically indicate some sort of ‘conspiracy’.”

Beeson also denied he is after the superintendent’s job.

“My own confidence in our current superintendent has eroded over the past few years. I am not alone,” he said. “There are many serious issues in this school district right now. Erosion of trust with the community is a big one that has been growing since the first failed bond request election.”

Another concern rippling through election conversations is the perception there is a concerted campaign to discredit the acts of the current board and the district.

Jessica Veith spent time investigating what she terms “the myths being circulated.” In a letter to the editor, available in full at ourtownlive.com, she tackles “six myths” involving district financial responsibility, decision-making and transition planning to “debunk” what she sees as unfair criticism. She’s also stressed on social media sites the importance of voters investigating all the candidates.

Sarah Kaser Weitzman agrees.

“It’s extremely important for voters to be paying attention to this election, especially since their are five seats open,” she said.

If four or five members of the slate are elected, opponents have pointed out, that could provide a quorum to reset district policy, particularly as it relates to the closure of Eugene Field School.

‘The future of SFSD is important with continued growth to Silverton, budget cuts on the state level, and difficulty with our district in passing bonds to help our infrastructure and aging buildings,” Weitzman said.

Our Town asked the candidates if they supported or wanted to revisit the decision to close Eugene Field School.

Their full response and other comments, are available on our website (click here). In part they said:

Roth: “I would stay with the decision to close the building.”

Weisner: “More concerning than it being closed or not is the lack of leadership and thoughtful planning for placement of the staff and students… Not to mention the hidden costs involved, money obligated that will jeopardize instruction and staffing levels.”

Johnson: “The EFS discussion is one of the many issues facing the board that require an objective review and are in need of a proper course of action.”

Squires: “I would leave Eugene Field closed.”

Valoff: “I would stay with the decision to close Eugene Field.”

Koch: “I would continue with the decision to close Eugene Field School.”

Kaser: “There are far more important issues concerning the education of our young people, than Eugene Field.”

Wernette: “Eugene Field is not fit for its present use.”

White: “I feel we have far more important issues facing SFSD than visiting this decision again, but I will not shy away from any issue if presented.”

Bailey: “I have no plans currently to overturn previous board decisions, but am willing to look at any plans that are economically viable and will be beneficial to the school district and community.”

Buchholz: “If the current Schlador St plan works out, then Yes. I have deep concerns that the amount we have budgeted for such a large undertaking…  If costs start to spiral up greatly, then it could be reconsidered.”

Martin encourages voters to think not only about who they want to represent and speak for them but who they want as a leader.

“Think about the traits that would be good in that role,” Martin said. “Integrity, honesty,  respect, intelligence,  teamwork etc. Also, why people are running? Do they have kids in school in our district, therefore having a vested interest in the future of our district?”

While she has her opinions and done her research, Martin doesn’t want voters to take her word or anyone else’s word on who is best qualified to serve on the Silver Falls School Board.

“Do your own research. Talk to the candidates, and remember who you vote in now is there for at least four years,” she said.

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